Discovered an article by one Michael Novak, titled "Conversations with the New Atheists IV" : www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apolo
Novak has taken some objections to Christian and other forms of belief made by Christopher Hitchens in a debate with Dinesh D'Souza. Novak explains that Hitchens' objections are useful to him in sorting out his own ideas.
He quotes a number of the objections and comments, as follows:
The burden of proof is heavier on believers who claim to know that God exists, who in fact know what God wants, and who are friends with the Guy.
Sorry, Christopher, the burden of discovering the truth about who we are falls equally on all human beings. No one escapes responsibility for deciding about that, and then living accordingly."
Novak has sidestepped the entire objection. Hitchens says that the burden of proof is heavier on believers because they must prove a positive claim--the claim that God (or gods) exist. Unbelievers need only point out sufficient flaws in the arguments and/or evidence presented. If there is little or no evidence to offer in the first place, the burden on unbelievers becomes even lighter.
But Novak doesn't address this. Instead he points out the banally obvious fact that each person must decide what the truth is for themselves. He has not really dealt with Hitchens' objection.
Novak also tries to deal with the other parts of the objection, saying, "knowing what God wants is not too difficult, in a very general sense. The God of Judaism and Christianity asks us to love Him with full integrity: with all one’s heart and mind and soul; and to love all humans, His children, with the same love. He also wants us to keep His Commandments."
If we take Novak literally, you might suppose he means that God told him this when they had some coffee together last week. Or that God once held a townhall meeting broadcast to the world in which he laid out his desires. But no. That is not how Novak has gotten his information at all. He either read what God is said to have wanted in a book, such as the bible or other religious text, or heard it from some priest, rabbi, pastor, or layperson. This makes his claim look a bit suspicious, since in no case has he definitely heard from God personally on what is wanted. The usual argument is that the bible IS a reliable guide to God's will. This argument is one from authority, usually with a church holding that authority. But the church has a vested interest in making just that argument. It ensures the loyalty of the congregation, and keeps people attending services and making donations and so on. That does not make me want to trust their authority. Humans are often deceitful and ready to steal from others. Fooling other people becomes an artform. Thus, I am not really willing to accept the divine inspiration of the bible solely on the testimony of church officials.
Why doesn't God vouch for himself? Why does he need a church composed of sinful humans to authorize a book written by humans as His will and testament? I mean, God has not even been known to do any book signings. Not that he needs any more marketing boost, seeing as how he has been the unacknowledged #1 bestseller for about 2000 years. If God, after all this years, won a Pulitzer prize, or any other prize, would he attend the ceremonies?
That is what Hitchens means when he says the burden of proof is heavier on believers. They have to provide evidence accounting for all these discrepencies between their claims and the reality we experience from day to day. Issues like why an all-pervading God who cares for all of us so often seems absent in the face of our hardships, and why he designed nature in such a way that most forms of life devour other forms of life in order to survive, and that when humans or any other creature are not eaten by predators, they are destroyed by nature and the elements. Hurricane Katrina is one great example of this. Why did God create hurricanes? Why is God so fond of them that they come our way a lot more often than we'd like? Why does He allow such gratuitous death and destruction for no apparent purpose? Humans suffer enough without naturally occuring disasters.
I have no quarrel with Novak's comments on morality except his ideas on where morality originally comes from.
Novak then makes a revealing set of statements. He goes into a minor rapture over the Catholic faith, claiming that all other religions and political or cultural movements are mere "parodies". This is in line with what I've heard from other Catholic apologists time and again. They argue that the Catholic faith is responsible for every good in Western society, and that even today people are merely living off the Catholic capital which remains in the wreckage of Christian culture. But I don't believe this for a number of reasons. Humans are capable of great cultural achievements no matter what their beliefs. and the West owes as much, if not more, to the Greeks and Romans than solely to the Catholic faith as such. Catholics have long taken from other cultures and grafted those things into their own culture. The faith strikes me as more of a symbiote or parasite than a source of civilization by itself.
Novak also shows how religions of all kinds must either adapt to new evidence or die out. For example, towards the end of his article Novak blurs the distinction between body and soul somewhat, portraying them as being interconnected as such that they really aren't very effective apart. The body without the soul, or the soul without the body, is not in God's plan apparently.
This is a clear attempt to sidestep the mounting possibility that there is no soul at all. All the wonderful things usually attributed to the soul could merely be properties arising from the body. Novak must sometimes suspect this or something like it, or else he wouldn't make a point of arguing the fusion of soul and body. If the two are mixed and indistinct, it is not so easy to seperate the one from the other and thus not so easy to detect the soul experimentally, or point out that a soul is lacking when such experiments turn up nothing. Or, more important, when changes to the body result in changes to things normally associated with the soul. This includes things like intelligence, wit, humor, and all other forms of thought and feeling. Making the line between body and soul indistinct allows believers to shrug off the implications of changes in the body bringing changes to personality. At least for now. How long they can keep up the act is uncertain. Maybe they can keep splitting hairs forever. Or maybe at some point the evidence will weigh so heavy on them that they can't ignore it, shrug it off, or downplay it any longer.